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Were It Ever So Airy A Tread

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The glass man did not know how long he had been waiting. He had never been human in any of the ways that mattered most, and so the ideas of time and of loneliness meant nothing to him. He only knew that he was in a different world from his creator, parallel but out of reach, and that the most important thing in any world was for him to be near her. Without Laura Hame, the glass man was without purpose. So he waited.

His name was Nown. Laura had written that name along his spine when she raised him out of the dust, and all the time she had been singing the song that bound him together and to her will. But on a later night, as he carried her away in his arms from terrible danger, she had set him free. She had leaned over his shoulder and scratched out the first letter on the back of his neck. From then on he was no longer bound to follow her orders, but he couldn't see a reason to turn away. Laura was his light, after all, and his compass.

He had still been made of sand then. It was some time later that the fire had raged in the Palace and Rose had become trapped. He knew that the loss of someone as close to her heart as Rose would break Laura in a way that he, inhuman and distant as he was, would not be able to repair. So Nown had gone into the building unquestioningly. Yet, though he tried the very best he could, it took too long to find her. A burning pit of coal swallowed him up and then there was a terrible heat invading him, tempting him to dissolve, until he felt only an unbearable sameness between the sand that gave him form and the coal that smothered it.

He survived by thinking of Laura. Laura, who gave him life. Laura, whom he had promised to protect and to serve and to keep always from harm.

So when he climbed out of the coal pit, clear and glass except for his heart made from Laura's precious stone, he could feel across the miles to where she was. His compass. Following her light, he found her, and he swore:

I promise in the future to do more, to do – I know not what – to save whoever you love.

Too soon he was thrown into the other world, and Laura was both sideways and in the past from him. Too soon after finding her again, he lost her.

But if he had no concept of human time, he also had no concept of forever. Therefore he knew he had not lost her forever. All that remained was the waiting.

He waited at the end of the sandbank, watching – surrounded by the sea that he could not see.

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In the other world, Laura Hame was happy.

She had thwarted the terrible fate that had once seemed so inevitable. All the pain and confusion and complications had ended with the creation of two worlds: one in which most of her family died, leaving her son to grow up a miserable convict (and in which, unbeknownst to her, Nown waited with never-ending patience); the other in which she lived now, twenty years old and content, with almost all of her family surrounding her. To her, the other world in which so many bad things were to happen was barely real.

Still, there was one matter that continually rose up in the back of her mind to haunt her. When she had destroyed the Place that had first warned against that terrible, other future, her dear Nown had faded into nonexistence. She did not know why he had gone, but she couldn't see any way in which he could still exist; she knew without doubt that, if he had not been destroyed, he would have found her years ago no matter what stood in his way. Because he was Nown. Because he had always done so before. Because she could not imagine it any other way.

When he had gone that other time, long ago, crumbling into a pile of sand so that Laura's family would not find him, there had been no difficulty. No distress. Laura had simply made him again. She wanted so to make him again now… all she had to do was shape his form lying down in the sand and sing the Measures, gathering the earthly power underneath her. How she wished she could make him again.

But something deep inside of her knew, somehow, that it was prohibited. She could not feel the storm of music around her. When she sang the verses they fell flat; the magic fell out from under her. She felt as if she would never know the magic again.

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When Lizzie first found the glass man, she was six years old.

He was sitting at the very edge of the So Long Spit, legs pointing straight out at the water, arms hanging down at his sides. His blank face had, upon closer examination, rudimentary human features. She investigated for some time, climbing up and down the stone slabs of the terrain and disturbing the birds that nested there, before speaking:

"Hello."

She was feeling very alone at the moment, caught between sea and sky with her mother far away beyond the lighthouse. She was only trying to entertain herself. She was not expecting a reply.

But she got one.

"Laura." The voice was cool and deep. The glass man turned his head around and seemed almost to look at her. After a moment in which neither of them moved, the glass man said, "Not Laura. But your light looks like hers."

Lizzie's eyes widened and she held in all her breath at once.

The glass man stood up slowly, one leg at a time, and took a careful step towards her. This was enough to start her talking.

"What are you?" she said overloudly.

"I am Nown."

"I've never seen you before." Almost as if she blamed him for hiding – or as if, since she didn't know what he was, he oughtn't to have existed at all.

"You have never been here before."

There was an odd sense of finality, of permanence in his voice, and she was suddenly afraid. "How do you know?"

"I've been here a long time."

His short, immediate answers annoyed her. She didn't want to carry the whole conversation on her own – and besides, he hadn't even asked her name yet.

Finally, he did offer some information of his own. "I'm here because I'm waiting."

"Why are you waiting?"

"For Laura."

"Who's Laura? Is she ice like you?"

"She is my creator. She is human."

When he didn't say anything more, she got impatient and said, "I'm Lizzie Hame."

The glass man leaned toward her as if suddenly brought on guard. Lizzie could suddenly see the sun shining through him, fracturing against the air bubbles inside him, transforming him into something… otherworldly. Otherworldly, and alive with light.

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Nown watched the Hame girl. He knew, now, why her light was so like Laura's: she, too, was a Hame. Since he knew this all was in the future, the girl was clearly a descendant of the otherworld Laura, the parallel Laura – the dead Laura.

Laura had argued so often with Nown over what information he ought to volunteer without being asked; over time he had learned to distinguish the mundane from the 'need-to-know.' But he was incapable of sharing this information unless he could predict what would then occur. Still, he knew Laura would be quite curious about this descendant of hers. If… when she returned to him, he wanted to be able to tell her, "In the other world, your son Lazarus had a son who had a son whose daughter is called Lizzie;" he wanted a small redemption for all the things he had known before and had not told her.

So he said, "Who is your family?"

"Who…" Lizzie echoed, faltering a moment. "Oh! That's my mom, over there." She gestured vaguely along the shore, where Nown saw a stately lady staring out into the nothingness.

"What about your father?"

She tilted her head and shrugged. "I never saw him. But – I know Daddy's Aunt Marta!" Lizzie added suddenly, wanting Nown's approval badly.

Marta had no nephews; this he knew. Luckily he had adapted (from Laura, all from Laura) a bent for figurative thought. "Is Marta your great-aunt, perhaps?"

"What's a great-aunt?"

Nown wasn't entirely sure how to get information like this from a young child, but changed tactic and tried again. "Does Marta talk about her brother sometimes?"

"She showed me pictures," the girl said. "He was… Tz-i-ga."

"Yes."

"Did you know him? Before he was dead, I mean."

Nown said, "Yes." Then: "Do you know Tziga's daughter Laura?"

"Tziga's daughter-" she echoed again, then broke off when she got to a name she evidently recognized. "Grandma Laura! Oh, but… she was dead, too. She used to live in a house with Daddy. But then bad things happened and Daddy left."

So Laura's son, Lazarus, had had a daughter before leaving this world. Nown tried to reflect on what it all meant, but it seemed to him it didn't mean anything at all of great consequence. Only that Lizzie was like Laura. He hoped that she was a lot like Laura; he hoped that, one day, she would figure out some unexpected and humanly unusual way for him to return home.

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Laura was growing older. With each passing day, she grasped more and more often for the Measures in her heart. With each passing day, the Measures continued to elude her. It was no surprise, really, that she could not find her heart; it remained outside her body, as it had been since she first raised her sandman from the ground. It was split between her beloved husband, her precious son, and the glass man who waited still on a distant shore.

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Lizzie was growing older, too. Soon she was a teenager. Every week she would visit Nown at the end of So Long Spit, but he refused to leave his post and go home with her. He only ever saw her mother from afar.

"I feel alone sometimes," she said once. "I don't really know what it's like to have a big family. But other people seem to think I'm missing something." She was quiet for a long time. Then:

"Nown?"

"Yes, Lizzie?"

"What was my father like?"

Nown examined her face; he no longer spent all their time together staring unmovingly at the horizon, and she was glad. She thought that maybe it meant he respected her more. For some reason, his respect mattered.

"I didn't know your father, Lizzie. Not for long enough."

She sighed and looked away. He turned back to the sea for a while before adding softly, "But I did know your grandmother."

Lizzie didn't ask, but he went on to answer anyway (as he had never been able to before). As he spoke, he thought, This is for you, Laura. How I wish I could go back and tell you without the asking. Laura – if only you could hear me – everything I do here is for you.

And this is what he said: "Your grandmother Laura was strong and wise and brave in a world where being all that was very difficult. She loved your father very much, by the end. She was always very careful not to hurt anyone. Even me."

He began by speaking about the parallel Laura, or at least thought he was, but he kept talking for half an hour and by the end of it he had switched to present tense. The sun had gone down.

"You love each other," Lizzie said when he had finished.

"Not in the way that humans love," he replied, but his mind overcame his will and he found himself remembering the way Laura had depended on his presence, and the many times her arms had been flung around him in a desperate embrace, and the pain and wonder in her voice when she cried that she had left her heart outside herself…

"You do, you do! I can see you do! Oh, Nown…" And then Lizzie's eyes filled with tears. She was not jealous – she did not want Nown to herself – she only wanted a family, a past, to know – oh, she did not know what she wanted.

She turned to her glass man and clung to him and she could see the stars reflected through him.

"Please take me away," she said.

"That is not within my power," he said, but he looked into her (Laura's) eyes and she did not pull away.

I wish I could make things better, he thought. For the both of us. But she curled up next to him and shivered in the starlight and there was only one thing he could do.

And so he told her the story of the Measures.

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Lazarus sang his mother's song to the lady Beatrice on their wedding night.

She did not know what it meant, only that it was pretty; to be fair, he did not quite understand it either. He was not the elder Lazarus from the other world. He was the younger Lazarus, and he had grown up with his mother and his mother's song. The Measures, she called them. He had never felt the quickening of the earth as it awakened to his voice. But Laura seemed to believe that one day, if she passed the Measures on and kept them alive, the power would return.

So, when Beatrice gave birth to a daughter, he sang her to sleep each night with one song only. By the time she was seven, she knew it flawlessly. Laura was very proud.

He named her Elizabeth. Lizzie, for short. It was a family name.

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When Nown's Lizzie was a young woman, she took him to her grandmother's grave.

It was the first time he had left the sea since arriving, but this seemed as good a place to wait as any. It was very quiet there. He was quiet. Lizzie caught his mood and left him alone in silence.

He sat there for a long time.

"In this world," he said, "your son had a daughter and she is called Lizzie." A long pause. "Don't worry about me. She is here. She is not you, but she is here."

Nown waited. He looked down at his heart stone, then pressed his palm to the glass encasing it. He could nearly feel it.

"I know this is not your grave, Laura. But it is close enough. I… hope that you can… hear me, Laura." He waited. "I hope that you are happy."

He waited.

After that first day at the beach, Lizzie had had the grace not to ask what he was waiting for. He did not quite know, himself: did he expect Laura to emerge from some glistening portal, smiling and running towards him, telling him he would have to wait no more? It was, of course, quite impossible.

Yet Lizzie understood. Laura was his creator; it was bound in his every fiber to wait for her. It was in his heart – no, it was his heart. Without Laura, nothing Nown did mattered.

In that moment, kneeling before Laura's grave, Nown understood, too.

He stood up in his peculiar way, and whispered one last thing to Laura, and turned from the grave.

He knew what he had to do.

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Laura Hame died on a Tuesday.

It was winter. For hours, for days on her deathbed, she had existed in a fevered half-dream. She was barely aware of her family around her.

At one point, she thought she heard Nown's dear voice. He was speaking her name. He was speaking of himself. He was speaking of other worlds.

Her family didn't know what she was thinking when she passed on. They only knew that she was smiling and laughing and crying, all of it at once.

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"You must unmake me."

At first, Lizzie did not understand. But Nown explained patiently.

"Lizzie, you must erase the letters on the back of my neck and give me back to the earth."

"I… I don't think I can." Her voice trembled. She still did not understand why.

"You must. I should not exist – not over here, not separated from her." He did not define the 'her.' Lizzie knew. "It goes against all the workings of nature. You must unmake me, so that everything can be whole again."

"I will not be whole without you!" she said, but compared to the bond between Nown and Laura, they were as the empty words of a superficial and impassioned child.

His hands took her shoulders very gently. "You are a woman now. You will be married in a week, and you do not need me, now or ever. You are strong and wise and brave and you have never needed me."

"You said that you were free." She covered his hands with hers and tried to smile so that she would not cry. "You said she didn't have control over you anymore. I'm not sure that even she could unmake you, never mind me! I did not create you! How can I…" She trailed off as she lost her battle with the tears.

"You are a Hame," he said. "That means that you are special. You are the closest thing to her on this world. Come here, stop crying, it will not be too difficult: I will you to unmake me, it is my choice as well as yours, it shall work if you only don't think too much on it…"

She hesitated. "Can't we have more time? That's all I ask of you, Nown. Another year, another month… another day, even!"

"No." His voice was soft and calm and smooth as glass. "You know it must be."

She held him very tightly as the wind stormed around them and the world turned and the sun set. He waited.

Finally she sighed and said sweetly, "Goodbye, Nown. You have been so good to me."

She did not have to worry about how her hand, soft and small, could possibly change what was etched in the hard, unyielding glass. The moment she touched his neck, he crumbled into dust.

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The night Laura died, her granddaughter Lizzie felt a sudden surge of power that she could not explain. She was on the back porch, and the stars were painfully bright. Then she remembered: she had been singing the Measures, almost absentmindedly, under her breath.

Could it be?

She ran out to the sand, and it didn't matter that her feet were bare, her hair was loose, and she was too old now for chasing half-believed family legends into the night.

Carefully, she shaped a figure out of the sand, lying on its stomach. Just as her father had taught her. Head, neck, back. Thighs, calves, feet. Then the letters: N-O-W-N.

And then she sang.

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Nown could feel her calling him out of the ground. It was a faint but growing distinctness, as each grain of sand became a part of the whole. In seconds it was over and he stood up, looking down at the woman who had created him.

At first he thought it was Laura. He thought it was Laura because the world seemed to center around her, and he could hear her breath more acutely than anything, and the heart inside of him (a necklace; it said 'Beatrice') belonged as distinctly with the woman before him as the railroad stone had belonged with Laura – as he had belonged with Laura. All these were familiar sensations.

He stepped forward and the world changed.

The moment he realized it wasn't Laura was also the moment he realized it didn't matter. The woman before him was his center now, as clearly and completely as Laura had ever been; everything rested on and fell with her. His existence was whatever she called him to be. His location was measured in the steps it would take him to reach her. He considered what to say, and it was only to her that the words would matter. Every grain of him was focused on protecting, serving, and indeed loving the alternate Lizzie – for of course it was she. The brightest object in his sight.

She was his compass.

Lizzie was his light.

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